This is sometimes also refered to as General American and is used in
almost two-thirds of the country. It breaks down into the dialect regions
Northern New England
Many of the Northern dialects can trace their roots to this dialect, which
was spread westward by the New England settlers as they migrated west. It
carries a high prestige due to Boston's early economic and cultural
importance and the presence of Harvard University. A famous speaker is
Katherine Hepburn. They sometimes call doughnuts cymbals,
simballs, and boil cakes.
Eastern New England (1)
This is one of the most distinctive of all the American dialects.
R's are often dropped, but an extra R is added to words that
end with a vowel. A is pronounced AH so that we get
"Pahk the cah in Hahvahd yahd" and "Pepperidge
Boston Urban (2)
Like many big cities, Boston has its own dialects that are governed more
by social factors like class and ethnicity than by geographic location.
Greater Boston Area is the most widely spoken and is very
similar to Eastern New England. Brahmin is spoken by the upper
aristocratic class like Mr. Howell on Gilligan's Island.
Central City Area
This is what most of us think of as being the "Boston Accent."
In the last few years, Saturday Night Live has featured this
dialect among a group of rowdy teenagers who like to videotape themselves.
Also think of Cliff on Cheers, the only character on this
Boston-based show to actually speak a Boston dialect.
Western New England (3)
Less distinctive than Eastern, but more influential on the other Northern
Hudson Valley (4)
New York was originally a Dutch colony, and that language influenced this
dialect's development. Some original Hudson Valley words are stoop
(small porch) and teeter-totter. They call doughnuts (which were
invented by the Dutch) crullers and olycooks.
New York City (5)
Unlike Boston and other urban dialects,
New York City stands by itself and bears little resemblence to the other
dialects in this region. It is also the most disliked and parodied of any
American dialect (even among New Yorkers), possibly because many Americans
tend dislike large cities. When an R comes after a vowel, it is
often dropped. IR becomes OI, but OI becomes
IR, and TH becomes D as in "Dey sell
tirlets on doity-doid street" and fugedaboudit (forget
This pronounciation is particularly associated with Brooklyn
but exists to some extent throughout the city. The thickness of a
speaker's dialect is directly related to their social class, but these
features have been fading within all classes over recent decades. Famous
speakers are Rosie Perez, Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei in My Cousin
Vinnie, Archie Bunker, Bugs Bunny, and (if you're old enough to
remember) the Bowery Boys.
Accabonac Creek in eastern Long Island, this dialect is rapidly dying out
due to the influx of people from other areas. Back when New York City
belonged to the Dutch, this area was part of New England, and Bonac shows
elements of both dialects.
Inland Northern (7)
Combines elements of Western New England and Upper Midwestern.
merry, and Mary are pronounced the same.
They call doughnuts friedcakes.
San Francisco Urban (8)
Unlike the rest of California, which in the early twentieth century saw
an influx of people from the South and other parts of the West, San
Francisco continued to be settled by people
from the Northeast and Northern Midwest, and elements of their dialects
(North Midland, Upper Midwestern, Inland Northern) can be found.
The Mission dialect, spoken by Irish Catholics in a specific part of
the city, is very much like the New York City dialect.
Upper Midwestern (9)
Originally settled by people from New England and New York State who
those dialects, this area was also influenced by Southerners coming up
the Mississippi River as well as the speech patterns of the German and
Scandinavian immigrants and the Canadian English dialects from over the
border. It's sometimes referred to as a "Midwestern twang."
They call jelly doughnuts bismarks.
Minnewegian (Minnesota / Norwegian), a subdialect spoken in the
northernmost part of this region was spoofed in the movies Fargo
and Drop Dead Gorgeous.
Chicago Urban (10)
Influenced by the Midland and Southern dialects. Often spoken by the
late John Belushi (Chicago's Second City comedy theater supplied
many Saturday Night Live actors). SNL used to spoof it
in the "Da Bears, Da Bulls" sketches.
They call any sweet roll doughnuts.
North Midland (11)
Created as the people in Pennsylvania migrated westward and influenced by
Scotch-Irish, German, and English Quaker settlers. This and the South
Midland dialect can actually be considered a separate Midland Dialect
region that serves as a transition zone between the north and south. They
call doughnuts belly sinkers, doorknobs, dunkers, and
Pennsylvania German-English (12)
This was strongly influenced by Pennsylvania Dutch, a dialect of
German spoken by people in this area (in this context, "Dutch"
is actually a mispronunciation of the German word, "Deutsch,"
which means "German"). Its grammar allows sentences like
"Smear your sister with jam on a slice of bread" and
"Throw your father out the window his hat." They call
doughnuts fasnacht, and they also invented dunking - from the
German "dunken" (to dip).
Compared with the Eastern United States, the Western regions were settled
too recently for very distinctive dialects to have time to develop or to
be studied in detail. Many words originally came from Spanish, cowboy
jargon, and even some from the languages of the Native Americans:
adobe, beer bust, belly up, boneyard, bronco, buckaroo, bunkhouse,
cahoots, corral, greenhorn, hightail, hoosegow, lasso, mustang, maverick,
Rocky Mountain (13)
Originally developed from the North Midland and Northern dialects, but was
then influenced by the Mormon settlers in Utah and English coal miners who
settled in Wyoming. Some words that came from this dialect are kick
off (to die), cache (hiding place), and bushed (tired).
They also call jelly doughnuts bismarks.
Pacific Northwest (14)
Influenced by settlers from the Midwest and New England as well as
immigrants from England, Germany, Scandinavia, and Canada. Much earlier, a
Chinook Jargon was developed between the languages
the Native American tribes of this area. It would later also be used
and influenced by the European settlers who wished to
communicate with them. A few words from Chinook Jargon
like high muckamuck (important person) are still used
in this dialect today. (Note that, in this case, the word
"jargon" has a different meaning from the one discussed
Alaska (not shown)
Developed out of the Northern, Midland, and Western dialects. Also
influenced by the native languages of the Alutes, Innuit, and Chinook
Jargon. Some words that originated here are: bush (remote area),
cabin fever, mush (to travel by dog sled),
Pacific Southwest (15)
The first English speakers arrived here from New York, Ohio, Missouri,
New England, and other parts of the Northeast and Midwest in the 1840s,
bringing the Northern and North Midland dialects with them. Words
originally used by the gold miners of this period are still used today:
pay dirt (valuable discovery), pan out (to succeed), and
goner (doomed person).
The early twentieth century saw an influx of people from the South and
other parts of the West. The people here are particularly fond of
creating new slang and expressions, and, since Hollywood is located
here, these quickly get spread to the rest of the country and the world.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, an extreme
exaggeration of this dialect that came to be known as "Valley
Girl" or "Surfer Dude" was popular among teenagers and
much parodied in the media with phrases like "gag me with a
spoon" and "barf me back to the stone age."
Sean Penn in Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Whoopie Goldberg in
her one-woman show are two famous examples.
By the time this area became part of the United States, there had already
been as many as ten generations of Spanish speaking people living here,
so the Mexican dialect of Spanish had an important influence on this
area that became a melting pot for dialects from all over the USA.
Some local words are: caballero, cantina, frijoles, madre, mesa,
nana, padre, patio, plaza, ramada, tortilla.
Hawaii (not shown)
The original language of the Native Hawaiians is part of the Polynesian
family. English speakers arrived in 1778, but many other settlers also
came from China, Portugal, Japan, Korea, Spain, and the Philippines
to influence the modern dialect. Hawaiian Creole developed from
a pidgin English spoken on the sugar plantations with workers from Hawaii
and many other countries. Some words are: look-see, no can, number
one (the best), plenty (very). It isn't widely spoken anymore.
Nonstandard Hawaiian English developed from Hawaiian Creole and
spoken mostly by teenagers. Standard Hawaiian English is
part of the Western dialect family but shows less influence from
the early New England dialect than any other American dialect. It has
many words borowed from the original Hawaiian as well as some from the
other Asian languages mentioned above: aloha, hula, kahuna, lei,
luau, muumuu, poi, ukulele.
This dialect region matches the borders of the Confederate states that
seceded during the "Confederate War" and is still a culturally
distinct region of the United States. Since it was largely an agricultural
area, people tended to move around less than they did in the north, and as
a result, the subdialects are much less uniform than those of the General
Northern regions and have much more clearly defined boundaries. Other
languages that had an important influence on it are French (since the
western region was originally French territory) and the African languages
spoken by the people brought over as slaves.
People tend to speak slower here than in the north creating the famous
southern "drawl." I is pronounced AH, and
OO is pronounced YOO, as in "Ah'm dyoo home at fahv
o'clock." An OW in words like loud is pronounced
with a slided double sound AOO (combining the vowel sounds in
"hat" and "boot"). Some local words are:
boogerman, funky (bad smelling), jump the broomstick
(get married), kinfolks, mammy, muleheaded,
overseer, tote, y'all.
South Midland (17)
This area, dominated by the Appalachian
Mountains and the Ozark Mountains, was originally settled by the
Pennsylvania Dutch moving south from the North Midland areas and the
Scotch-Irish moving west from Virginia. A TH at the end of words or
syllables is sometimes pronounced F, and the word ARE is
often left out of sentences as they are in Black English.
An A is usually placed at the beginning of verb that ends with
ING, and the G is dropped; an O at the end of a word
becomes ER. ("They a-celebratin' his birfday by a-goin' to
see 'Old Yeller' in the theatah").
A T is frequently added to words that end with an S
sound. Some words are: bodacious, heap, right smart
(large amount), set a spell, and smidgin. American English
has retained more elements of the Elizabethan English spoken in the time
of Shakespeare than modern British English has, and this region has
retained the most. Some Elizabethan words that are extinct in England are:
bub, cross-purposes, fall (autumn), flapjack,
greenhorn, guess (suppose), homely, homespun,
jeans, loophole, molasses, peek,
ragamuffin, reckon, sorry (inferior), trash,
Made famous by the Beverly Hillbillies, this isolated area was
settled by people from the southern Appalachian region and developed a
particularly colorful manner of speaking.
Southern Appalachian (19)
It is a popular
myth that there are a few remote regions here that still speak an
unchanged form of Elizabethan English, but they aren't true. Linguists are
still studying the specific differences with South Midland.
As the northern dialects were originally dominated by
Boston, the southern dialects were heavily influenced
by Charleston, Richmond, and Savannah. They tend to
drop Rs the way New Englanders do, but they
don't add extra Rs. Some words are:
big daddy (grandfather), big mamma (grandmother),
Confederate War (Civil War), cooter (turtle),
fixing to (going to), goober (peanut), hey (hello),
mouth harp (harmonica), on account of (because).
Virginia Piedmont (20)
When an R comes after a vowel, it becomes UH,
and AW becomes the
slided sound, AH-AW. Thus, four
dogs becomes fo-uh dahawgs.
Some local words are: hoppergrass (grasshopper),
old-field colt (illegitimate child),
school breaks up (school lets out),
Coastal Southern (21)
Very closely resembles Virginia Piedmont but has
preserved more elements from the colonial era dialect
than any other region of the United States
outside Eastern New England. Some local words are:
catty-corner (diagonal), dope
(soda, Coca-Cola), fussbox (fussy
person), kernal (pit), savannah
(grassland), Sunday child (illegitimate
child). They call doughnuts cookies.
Sometimes called Geechee, this creole language
is spoken by some African Americans
on the coastal areas and coastal islands of Georgia and
South Carolina and was featured
in the novel on which the musical, Porgy and Bess,
was based. It combines English with several West African
languages: Mende, Yoruba, Wolof, Kongo, Twi, Vai, Temne,
Ibo, Ewe, Fula, Umbundu, Hausa, Bambara, Fante, and more.
The name comes either from the Gola tribe in Liberia or the
Ngola tribe in Angola. The grammar and pronunciation are too
complicated to go into here, but some words are:
bad mouth (curse), guba
(peanut - from which we get the English word
goober), gumbo (okra), juju (magic),
juke (disorderly, wicked), peruse
(to walk leisurely), samba (to dance),
yam (sweet potato).
Gulf Southern (23)
This area was settled by English speakers moving
west from Virginia, Georgia, and the Carolinas,
as well as French speaking settlers spreading out from
Louisiana, especially the Acadians (see "Cajuns" below).
Some words are: armoire (wardrobe), bayou
(small stream), bisque (rich soup),
civit cat (skunk), flitters (pancakes),
gallery (porch), hydrant (faucet),
neutral ground (median strip), pecan patty
There's a lot going on down here. Many people
in southern Louisiana will speak two or three
of the dialects below.
(the Cajuns were originally French settlers in
Acadia, Canada - now called Nova Scotia - who
were kicked out when the British took over; in
1765, they arrived in New Orleans which was still
French territory) carries the highest prestige of
the French dialects here and has preserved a number
of elements from the older French of the 1600s. It
has also borrowed some words from the Spanish who
once controlled this area. There are many local
variations of it, but they would all be mutually
understandable with each other as well as - with
some effort - the standard French in France.
Cajun English borrows vocabulary and grammar from
French and gives us the famous pronunciations
"un-YON" (onion) and "I ga-RON-tee"
as well as the phrase "Let de good times role!",
but movies about cajuns usually get the rest wrong. A famous
authentic speaker is humorist
Justin Wilson, who had a
cooking show on PBS, with his catch phrase,
"How y'all are? I'm glad for you to see me."
New Orleans is pronounced with one syllable:
There is another dialect of English spoken in New Orleans that is
informally, and some would say pejoratively, called Yat (from the
greeting, "Where y'at"), that resembles the New York City (particularly
Brooklyn) dialect (more
info). Provincial French was the upper class dialect of the
pre-Cajun French settlers and closely resembles Standard French but isn't
widely spoken anymore since this group no longer exists as a separate
Louisiana French Creole blends French with the languages of the
West Africans who were brought here as slaves. It is quite different from
both the Louisiana and standard dialects of French but is very similar to
the other creoles that developed between African and French on various
Caribbean Islands. Married couples may speak Creole to each other, Cajun
French with other people, and English to their children.
- Rattray, David, ed. Success With Words: A Guide to the
American Language. Prepared in association with Peter Davies..
Pleasantville, NY: Reader's Digest Association, 1988. (Rattray is
the primary source for information in the text. Since the text was
intended as an informal overview, page numbers are not cited.)
- Crystal, David. The Cambridge encyclopedia of the English
language Cambridge, England: Cambridge University
- McArthur, Tom, ed. The Oxford Companion to the English Language
New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
- Taggart, Chuck. A
Lexicon of New Orleans Terminology and Speech The Gumbo Pages.
Accessed May 7, 2001.